By Michael Albert at Aug 13, 2008
I wrote this message at what I think is the NEFAC site in response to a discussion occuring there....hopefully it uploaded properly...
I received Price's original essay, and then his reply to my response, which I replied to again. Now I see there is an interesting discussion occurring, too!
I would think the discussion, which often includes comments about my views, might benefit a bit from including my words. Perhaps I am missing it, but I didn't see any link to or inclusion of what I actually had to say. My original reply to Price is here
It is a blog post and is long because I include in it all Price's words. The follow up by Price is there, too, and my reply to that as well.
I know it is a bit annoying to read a message like this that says please go somewhere else to see something - so I will summarize below, to try to make things easier. And I will try to be brief.
First, however, I have a proposal I would like to convey.
I know from various friends, as well as from the Price essay, that some folks in NEFAC have concerns about parecon and associated ideas and are even seriously critical of it. Good, that is how progress is made!
So how about if we have a kind of online exploration/debate.
I have done this sort of thing before and the usual approach has been that I write some kind of summary piece, say at most 3,000 words, and so does the other participant, Price or whoever. Then I reply, to Price and Price, or whoever it may be, replies to me. Thus, in one track, or channel, the discussion is about the views that I offer in an initial piece - about Parecon and associated strategic ideas, etc. In the other channel, or track, the discussion is about views Price (or whoever) offers in an initial piece, presumably views associated with NEFAC, say.
Each set of views is set out initially by a proponent - me setting out mine, Price (or whoever) setting out his. The ensuring exploration occurs on that basis, in the two tracks. At the end, both parties make an overall summary giving their take on the whole experience.
Typically this kind of exchange has involved an initial essay positively summarizing each perspective without reference to the other perspective, critical replies, rejoinders, responses, on both sides, and finally the two concluding essays. The whole thing would appear on ZNet in the debates section - there are a bunch there you can see any time - and presumably it would also go on NEFAC as you all decide. At any rate, I would be happy to engage in such an exploration/exchange/debate, or likely in any variant you all might prefer.
Here then, is the promised summary of some views relevant to the discussion:
I advocate parecon or participatory economics for the economy.
Parecon is not a blueprint but instead specifies only a few core institutions, with the details to come in practice and likely to vary from case to case. The defining features of parecon are workers and consumers self managing councils (where self management means people having a say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them); remuneration only for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work (or if unable to work, for need); balanced job complexes (balancing empowerment among the workforce); and participatory planning.
The claim made by parecon advocates is that parecon will get economic functions accomplished consistent with also advancing solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, sustainability, and fulfillment and development of those involved - or, in short, full and true classlessness.
On this last point, parecon claims not only to eliminate the class division between the owning or capitalist class and workers, but also to eliminate the class division between what parecon calls the empowered or coordinator class and workers, where the latter division has typified the economies that have heretofore gone under the label "socialist" but have in fact, in the pareconist view, been "coordinatorist."
Parecon is not offered as an alternative for society as a whole, but only for the economy. However, its advocates, including myself, typically also want a new kinship system, culture, polity, etc. altogether composing what has begun to be called a participatory society.
Of course there is much to say about all the above. Price, however, has a different focus - which is fine - strategy. How does one reach a parecon or other new system? And about that he has two foci, as compared to many possible other things to talk about.
About strategy, I should say, SO FAR parecon advocates, myself included, are less specific than we are about the vision itself. There are many reasons for this, mostly, though, that getting widespread agreement on what we are trying to achieve seems to be a prerequisite to getting more than very general and broad clarity about how we might do it.
But what general and broad strategic inclinations have I, and more broadly pareconists, had to offer so far that cause Price, or others in NEFAC, to be critical, and in particular to see me, or pareconists generally, as reformist?
Honestly, even at this point in the exchanges, I don't know.
I argue for what I call non reformist reforms. What is that?
Well, a reform is a change in social relations which doesn't, however, alter underlying defining relations. Typically people pursue a reform as an end in itself. They take for granted, implicitly or explicitly, whether they like the fact or they dislike it, that the defining relations of society are not going to change. This is reformism. It can be heroic, courageous, well motivated, and it can have dramatic desirable effects, as well. But it isn't about changing defining social relations, in the economy or in other spheres of life, since these are assumed to be beyond alteration. Reformism is not revolutionary.
An advocate of parecon, however, is obviously concerned to change defining relations in the economy - and for all the advocates of parecon that I know, in all other spheres too. More, I think it can be done, as do other advocates of the view that I know - so we not only hope parecon arrives, but see the efficacy of working to make it happen.
With Parecon private ownership of productive assets are gone. Corporations are gone. Remuneration for bargaining power, property, and or output is gone. Corporate divisions of labor are gone. Markets (and central planning) are gone. In place of these, as noted earlier, parecon has self managing workers and consumers councils, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and participatory planning. I offer this little list to highlight that a society with a parecon rather than capitalism, is a society that has undergone a revolutionary transformation of its economy. Thus, a parecon advocate doesn't want to fight for reforms in a way that assumes the continuation of the old system, doesn't want to fight for reforms as ends unto themselves, doesn't want to be reformist, myself included.
But, in my case and I think for nearly all other advocates of parecon - we do want to fight to win reforms. We/I believe that to dismiss reforms tout court is an incredibly odd stance - and a callous and disconnected one. So, we might fight for affirmative action, to end a war, to restrain or eliminate the IMF, for some ecological law, for higher wages, or better conditions, or a shorter work day, and on and on. So how do we avoid being reformist even while we respect that reforms are important both for bettering the lives of people now and for the lessons and implications they can have over time?
Our answer is we fight for them in non reformist ways. We try to win demands which (a) we try to define in ways, and (b) we try to fight for in ways that leave those involved better able and highly motivated to fight for still more gains, on the one hand, and more disposed toward and even involved in and participants in trying to conceive and seek a truly better, revolutionized, society, on the other hand. We view fighting to end a war or for better conditions, etc. etc. as important in their own right, of course, but also as part of a long term process of consciousness raising, commitment building, organization development, and general movement growth for winning a new society - revolution. I find it confusing to think that any anarchist would even disagree with that, much less deem it basis for serious rejection.
That is, I am absolutely at wits end to understand what it means, or what could lead to saying, or what is intended by saying, that a person or group which at eery opportunity argues for a very explicitly transformed social system, and which tries to better the lot of people while working toward it, and which is constantly oriented to the long term aims, not just short term goals, is reformist. If one says it is reformist because the person or group advocates and hopes to see reforms won, and works for them - then as best I can tell it means every revolutionary in all history was reformist, save for a quite small number of, again, in my view oddly callous and disconnected folks. I do not think that is what NEFAC is saying, but if not, then what? Let me be more blunt. Suppose Price or NEFAC or whoever was working in a factory and there was a struggle for higher wages. Would he/they tell the co-workers that is nonsense reformist, deluded, you should be marching for anarchism - the whole system - now? Or would he/they work with co-workers to win the demands but try to do it in ways leading toward growing revolutionary awareness, vision, commitment, and organization, etc. If the answe is the former, then, yes, we have a real difference here, a profoundly important one. If the answer is the latter, as I suspect then I don't see what the difference is. For pareconists, I should say, the way to work on a wage struggle is partly informed by the vision - develop understanding of self management, or equitable remuneration, perhaps even begin the process of creating awareness of or trying to build a workers council, etc.
To conclude on this topic, if I and typical pareconists think that winning reforms is a good thing, especially if done in non reformist ways, how do we think it contributes to revolution - meaning transformation of the defining features of one or more spheres of social life? Answer - it is a process by which more and more people become advocates of such change, begin to devote time and energy to the struggles for such change, and develop infrastructure both to facilitate that struggle and to foreshadow and even begin experimenting with the future goals, to the extent possible, in the present. For those who think the word revolution, by the way, means something other than a process - with whatever shape and form and features it winds up having - that engenders a new social order - I wonder what that other definition is.
Some advocates of parecon tend to think - I believe - that one can create pareconish firms, larger and more numerous as time goes by - and that that constructive process is the road to final victory. I, however, don't think that. I do think that activity is quite valuable, to learn, to inspire, and to gain the benefits of institutions of our own - but that such activity is nonetheless only one aspect of winning a new economy. Another aspect, also centrally important, even more so, is building growing movements that struggle for non reformist reforms, and, in particular, in talking specifically about the economy, to shift power throughout the economy, from elites - both elite classes - to working people. I could go one, but for purposes of the discussion - it seems to me the above ought to be enough.
What about electoral involvements, Price's other focus?
Well, to read Price you would perhaps think I have been some kind of ally of the Democratic Party and not only voted repeatedly for them, but urged others to do so, and even to work for them, etc. etc. This is peculiar in that ten minutes of effort before writing the piece, and merely reading my reply after writing the piece, would dispel the confusion. I am 61, I have cast one presidential ballot, for Nader - and I regret that, a bit, because I think while his campaign could have had very good results, the benefits were squandered after the election - which I predicted in advance, by the way, though I tried hard to make my prediction false. (I would have voted for Jackson, too, in a final election, but didn't get that chance. I think the outcome was similar to with Nader - fine possibilities lost. Now some will say of course the possibilities were lost, one could predict it. Indeed, I did. But just because I thought there was only a small chance of overcoming obstacles, that doesn't mean don't try...particularly once something was happening, in any case.)
What about more recent elections? I have said, often, I think there are times when voting for a lesser evil in an election is a perfectly reasonable way to spend a couple of hours -though so too is not voting, or voting for a third party, etc. There are also times, much rarer, when working for such a lesser evil mainstream candidate makes sense, particularly if one is in a swing state. That said, unlike Price, I would not say to someone, if you vote for a candidate who I don't think merits a vote, or in fact even support a candidate who I don't think even merits a vote much less support, then by that very fact you are revealing yourself to be reformist or even an ally of reaction, etc. It could be the case. Or it might not be the case. Voting is not a particularly useful indicator of political commitment and allegiances compared to, oh, checking years or even decades of a person's stated views, of their actions, etc. etc. And I find the inclination to engage with people in the dismissive manner that extrapolates so much from so little (even if the so little wasn't misperceived, at best) quite mistaken - honestly, far worse in its implications for possibilities of organizing than voting poorly, say.
I in fact happen to think elections in the U.S. are incredibly co-optive, on the one hand, and that the two parties are actually in any event two branches of a single corporate party that exists to pursue corporate elite agendas on the backs of the rest of the population. I want to replace the whole damn system, of course. I don't see how anyone could think I, or pareconists more generally, are soft on democrats, the electoral system, etc. etc.
Still, just to be sure we are clear, I do think there are times when someone is running, even as a democrat (rather than green, say) and it is viable, or even worthy and desirable, to support that candidate. This is only very rarely true, in my view - more often in most other leftists views, including, probably, many pareconists. When Mel King, for example, ran for Mayor of Boston, years back, as a Democrat - I supported him. Why? I felt that his victory, had it occurred would have been profoundly beneficial for virtually every type organizing in the Boston area, and beyond as well, with pretty much zero downside. That is my only such case. There are others who would say, and PRice seems to be one, without even looking at the specifics, that they know that since all electoral work is destined to have negative implications outweighing any benefits, they can a priori reject it - and not even just reject voting for Democrats, but even for third parties, etc. Okay, that's their view. I think while the claim in specific cases is often right, it is nonetheless, when it is made inflexible doctrine assume apriori to apply to all cases, highly dissociated from real circumstances we face. But suppose I am wrong and enti electoralists are right. Suppose it was wrong for people to support Mel King, or Jesse Jackson, or Ralph Nader, etc., or to even just vote for Obama in a swing state, or in Venezuela to work endless hours for Chavez, and so on. I don't agree, to put it gently, but whether I am right or wrong, to dismiss anyone who disagrees about such matters not just as perhaps being in error on the issue, but as being reformist and not revolutionary by virtue of this difference, seems to me - I am sorry - horribly sectarian.
Finally, I can easily conceive of scenarios in the U.S. and elsewhere in which electoral activity is part of a full revolutionary process, perhaps in some cases even a very important part, but of course never the whole story - at least if the revolution is to create a truely classless and participatory economy and society. I actually find it much harder to envision cases that don't involve any electoral activity, but not impossible.